Please, sir, may I have some more please…
Review by Jasaon Blalock
No one could accuse Oliver Sean of having a typical career. This Indo-Portuguese singer-songwriter first hit radio playlists in 1999 with "There She Is Again," which he'd recorded as a teen. From there, he launched into a globe-spanning career compassing everything from film scoring to work with the French tourism industry. Throughout, his musical focus had been a blend of classic American blues-rock, influenced by a range of ideas from around the globe.
After more than two years without a major release, Oliver Sean returns with Devil Is Back, a six-track EP that mixes some of the old and some new ideas. This time around, he's accompanied by his featured artist, a full eleven-piece band calling itself The Real Indie Project, or R.I.P. This pushes his sound even further into classic 70s blues territory, while adding considerable oomph to his compositions.
The result is an album that could easily please anyone who's fond of classic American rock and blues, and with a few twists to keep it from sounding solely like a retro project.
Devil Is Back gets off to a high-energy start with 'Yeah Whatever', which is as rocking a classic rock-blues track as one could ask for. Driven by a straightforward guitar riff reminiscent of Stevie Ray, it's fluffy fun and a great way to establish Oliver Sean's credentials as one of the best modern artists in the genre.
"The Mexican Beer Song," presumably a sneaky reference to the current coronavirus outbreak, turns to the past. It's a remake of Sean's first radio single with the full force of R.I.P. behind him This one's bass-driven, with the chorus punched up with harmonica and wailing sax. The song's silly lyrics mix well with the blues groove, making for a much improved rendition.
The album continues this trend by remaking 'Devil In Blue Jeans' retiriled as 'Devil Is Back'. Where the previous recording was a classic steel-guitar rocker, this new version features fully fleshed-out orchestrations, with full brass backing. This pumps new life into an already classic track, turning it into something the Blues Brothers might have played back in their day.
At this point, someone familiar with Sean's work might be annoyed at the lack of new material, he switches things up with "Dance Blues," which introduces a worldbeat groove, electronic elements, and even a hint of nu-disco - plus a wailing harmonica for color. This is easily the most musically creative track on the album, a mashup of sounds not often heard together. However, it doesn't entirely mesh with other material on the album, standing out in a way that left me wishing he'd included more music along these lines.
However, the album quickly switches back to its roots with a solid, but unexceptional, one-take pseduo-live cover of 'House Of The Rising Sun.' While the song is a personal favorite, it's so straightforward that it left me wishing he'd done more with it - such as punching it up with the world fusion vibe of the previous track. It's worth noting this a a single-take live-in-studio track.
The short 20-minute EP is then rounded out with 'Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday', ending the album on a high note. This one's a laid back groove with a slight Caribbean vibe, and retro synth pads giving it an extra smooth feel. The overall sound is more like something from the early 90s, with far less of the blues feel outside of muted brass punctuations.
Overall, the biggest complaint one might lodge against Devil Is Back is that there isn't enough of it, and it arguably plays things too safe - particularly with a third of its tracks being remakes of older material… 'Devil In Blue Jeans' is only a few years old! It would have been nice to see more experimental tracks. Sean's classic blues work is solid, but obscures the creativity which allows his best work to shine.
Here's hoping we don't have to wait another three years for Oliver Sean's next release and - just maybe - he takes more chances next time.